• Alicia Dunlap

Breaking bread, Breaking barriers

I love food, and culturally food tastes better when enjoyed with company in my opinion. Growing up in a Korean family, food was served "family style" with all the dishes set out to share. You just reached over and took what you wanted. Certain soups and stews were interesting as you'd share the same pot in the middle of the table with aunts, uncles, and cousins who would double dip without a second thought. This is totally outside of accepted customs in Western cultures, but for me, it's what I was used to it. I was also used to having family members insist that I eat what was on their utensil. It wasn't out of the norm for food to be shoved into my mouth while I was in mid sentence, or with food already in my mouth.

"Ah hay ba (open up)," or "Mmm, mo go (eat)," someone would say in Korean throughout the entire meal with chopsticks full of food zeroing in on my mouth.

I didn't get to grow up being a picky eater in my family, that was for sure. Meal time was an important family bonding time. Ryan grew up differently, with a single mom and his twin sister. They didn't have sit down meals together. Sometimes food would be mass produced and kept in the fridge for when they need to help themselves or they would feast on tv dinners. They learned to prepare food at an early age because their mother was working and in school. They were brought up to get what they wanted when they wanted it on their own, for the most part.

Married couple eating Korean food
South Korea - 2008

This didn't play out so smoothly when Ryan and I first began sharing meals together. I didn't notice it at first when we ate at one another's house, but eventually I discovered that Ryan didn't like sharing his food. I remember going out to restaurants and ordering different meals. If ever I ordered something different, I would always offer Ryan a taste of what I got. He'd always decline saying "I ordered what I wanted." I also noticed that he never offered to let me taste what he was eating.

After many meals together, one day I decided to ask for a taste of what he ordered. I remember seeing Ryan's body go rigid, his eyes focused down as if he wasn't sure if something had touched his leg underneath the table. He hesitated but then moved his plate closer. I happily took a piece of his food and went on enjoying the rest of my meal. After that first time, this became a regular thing for me. Whenever Ryan and I ordered different things, I got quite comfortable asking for a taste while already leaning over with my fork, ready to dive in.

Another dining habit of mine is to ask everyone around me what they plan on ordering before I order. For some reason, this helps me decide what sounds good to me. When it comes to Ryan and I, it helps me decide between dishes because I am usually stuck between two or three options. If he orders something that I considered, then I order the other meal so I can taste both! It makes total sense to me!

Early on, I took notice that whenever I would sample something Ryan had ordered to eat, he would not always finish his meal. He would just sit there expressionless. The stoic mood he adopted was quite common during this season of our lives together, and I learned to just live with it. I tried to avoid thinking about it too much, but that is another story in itself.

I finally spoke to Ryan about our uncomfortable meal engagements and that is when he told me that he never had to share his meals growing up. It was uncomfortable for him. He felt that if I wanted what he had on his plate, that I should have ordered my own, and vice versa. I pointed out that asking to sample his food wasn't the same as ordering the whole meal. I just wanted a taste, but he wasn't seeing it. I wonder how this man functioned in Kindergarten, not being able to share and everything... I can see him at his desk now. He probably built a cardboard wall to keep other kids from reaching over to borrow pencils or red crayons.

We really had to work on this idea of sharing in our relationship. That's what it came down to. Sharing is more than just granting someone permission to take a bite of your food. It's about sharing your time and emotions, it is unselfishly giving something you own to someone else to enjoy.

When it comes to sharing a meal, it is bigger than the food we put in our mouths. For me, it is an intentional time to bond. As I mentioned before, mealtimes were very important in my family growing up. We had a pretty regular set time for meals and that took priority over everything. My brother and I could be outside playing, but we knew to be home by 5:30 for dinner. Whatever we had going on had to stop and only resumed after family dinner time was over. This concept of planned mealtime was a major struggle that Ryan and I had to navigate once we got married because it was not as significant for him. He didn't do sit down dinners often, and if they did, it was in the living room, on the couch and in front of the TV. I was used to setting the table with napkins, utensils and plates. I was used to taking the time to talk as a family and catch up on what was going on in life. We got to share experiences, dreams, goals, and even received redirection and correction. I desperately wanted that for my own family.

A work in progress.

To this day, Ryan and I are still working on having meaningful sit down meals as a family. Even after 13 years of marriage, it is still a work in progress and somewhat new for him. Up until recently, Ryan was in law enforcement full-time, so there was no guarantee that he would even be home in time for dinner. There were many nights of fatherless meals that the children and I had to eat through alone, many nights of not having his plate to pick off of.

Family eating Korean food
South Korea - 2013

Now that Ryan is no longer working in a full-time law enforcement capacity and has transitioned into ministry, there have been some encouraging signs of improvement. For one thing, I don't have to ask for his food anymore. Now, he offers it to me without me having to ask! Today, I think that we both understand the importance of breaking bread as a family but we still have a long way to go with being intentional about it. At least now Ryan is available and has more opportunities to be present with us. As we walk into this new routine of having intentional family dinners, I want to make sure that we take the time to engage one another and our children to make sure we are all spiritually fed.

It's deeper than just literally breaking bread. It's about giving pieces of ourselves to sustain our spouse. Jesus broke his body and shared it with all of us. In turn, we are to go out and follow suit. What would it look like if Jesus looked at us sideways whenever we asked him to share himself with us, saying, "If you wanted some of what I got, you should've gotten it yourself?" He wouldn't do that. He is here for us, and similarly we should be there for our spouses. We should be enjoying each morsel of life together and willing to share different experiences, even if we didn't order it up on our own.


About The Authors:

Married couple drinking coffee in the mountains of Bali, Indonesia

We are Ryan and Alicia Dunlap, marriage coaches and the the founders of ThisIsKnotLove.com. Like a knot, we believe there are two types of marriages; those which are miserable, tangled messes and those which are intentionally fashioned together to join two separate things together as one. We work to remove the bad knots that cause marriages to unravel, and fashion secure knots that hold marriages together. We're just here to help you get the kinks out! #TIKL #KnottyLove


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